Junkyard Wars ““ Loveland, Colorado style

Assemble sign on the feed & grain
Photos by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved.

(Note: This event name has been changed to The Sculpture Games for 2013. It is now a 2-day event. More at www.thesculpturegames.com.)

I consider myself creative and imaginative, but when it comes to art, stick figures are as good as it gets. My husband, Ryan, however, was born an artist. He used to get in trouble in school for drawing in math class, and in art class he was the star, winning every competition that came along.

Ryan went on to attend the Art Institute of Colorado and since 2004, he’s been designing and manufacturing high end furniture for his own company, Ryan Schlaefer Fine Furniture, Inc. located in Loveland, Colorado.

This summer he had the opportunity to participate in a Loveland art competition, something he hadn’t done since graduating college. He was hesitant at first, wondering it was wise to go up against the talented sculptors who were sure to compete. Loveland is a well-known art community, with a nationally renowned sculpture weekend in August, and many sculptors call the community home.

The competition, called Assemble, involved making a three-dimensional creations in seven hours using only junk. Think Junkyard Wars, but more artsy fartsy. Ryan recruited a friend’s father, Bob Lipinski, a welder, to join his team.

The competition took place on July 14, in conjunction with Loveland Loves BBQ, Bands & Brews. Two local businesses, Uncle Benny’s and Mrs. Goodthrift donated two huge truckloads of materials, everything from doors, to lamps to metal scraps and everything in between.

Ten teams of 22 Loveland and Fort Collins-based artists had 2-hours to preview the pile before diving in and creating their sculptures in just 7 hours. The big barbecue, bands and beer event in Loveland was just a block away from Assemble, so festival goers would wander through, watching the sculptures take shape and voting for their favorites.

mother & child assemble
Olivia Lowe works on her Assemble piece.
Jade Art at Assemble
This piece by JADE Windell won the People’s Choice Award.
Peacock at Assemble
Robin Dodge’s team created this peacock, that won 3rd place.
walking the dog at Assemble
A pipe person walks a pipe dog in this creation at Assemble.

It was intriguing to watch the public’s reaction to the different pieces. Some chatted with the artists, while others whispered quietly  among  themselves, likely discussing what they would have done if they had taken part.

I’d experienced live snow sculpture events, but this was something different. For one thing, I was on the other side, watching my husband compete in the show. Second, in a snow sculpture competition everyone is working in the same medium. Here, it was interesting to see what the artists picked off the pile and then to speculate on what they were creating.

Some of the teams came in with ideas, others developed an idea when they saw what items were in the pile, and still others, like my husband and Bob, developed their idea as they worked. Ryan said it was sort of like any other day at his shop; designing, building and troubleshooting.

With the historic feed and grain as the backdrop for this artistic competition, you could almost feel the creativity in the air – the hot, hot air – it was nearly 100 degrees, and my job as the stocker of the cooler ended up being a crucial part of the day.

Assemble proved to be so intriguing that I’m inspired t seek out more of these live art competitions around Colorado. I will make sure you know about them on HeidiTown’s Facebook page. It’s a good way to feed your artistic inner child, as well as support Colorado’s talented art community.

ryan and bob pose with table at Assemble
Ryan Schlaefer & Bob Lipinski pose with their winning table at Assemble, an art competition.

Oh, and by the way, my husband won Assemble. There were five judges who critiqued the work on form, function, fine art, conduct and style. Ryan Schlaefer and Bob Lipinski took home first for their table, built from scraps of wood, an old gazebo, chair legs, and metal hardware shaped like hearts.

Assemble is going to be an annual event in Loveland, Colorado. Go to www.assembleloveland.com for more information. PLEASE NOTE: The website is now www.thesculpturegames.com.

See more photos from Assemble & Loveland Loves BBQ, Bands & Brew HERE.


  1. Great post, Heidi! What a great idea use castoffs to create (useful) art! Considering that much of our society just “uses and discards”, this is an aesthetic alternative. Congrats to your husband, too!


    1. Thanks for stopping by Steve! And thank you for the comment. You are so right. We live in a throw away society and it’s hard to find things that are made to last these days – especially furniture.

      It’s fun to tour places like Uncle Benny’s. You just might discover an artistic treasure, or at least something that can be turned into an artistic treasure! 🙂


  2. Great article Heidi… I’m so glad I got to see Ryan’s work of art live. What a fun event and glad to hear it will be annual. I think you were also the unofficial, official photographer that day too! Congrats to a well deserved win for Ryan!


    1. Thank you Vicki! And thanks for stopping by on the day of the event. There actually was an official photographer there and I would have loved to get photos from her for this post, but I forgot to get her card!!! I think she took some amazing photographs, and I will figure out how to get in touch with her.


  3. Wonderful post and happy that it will be an annual event. Uncle Benny’s has been a fantastic source for building supplies in my upgrading of my last home and my curent home. It is devastating to see the cast aways – what is discarded each day – instead of repaired, recycled or reconditioned! My medium is bicycles – what was old is now new again. BIG congrats to Ryan – the table is awesome!!! (maybe he’ll make more of them?)


    1. Thanks for rolling by Days Roll By! 🙂 Yes, it’s sort of mind blowing what people throw away, but then again, if you took a look at my basement, there’s a lot down there that I should have thrown away years ago… so there is a happy medium I suppose. LOL!


  4. Thank you so much for your article, it is like a breathe of fresh air! It is so nice to finally read an article on the show written so well. I finally feel satisfied with a well written article and great pics. We are looking forward to planning for next years show! I’m torn between participating and living vicariously through the artists as I pick materials to use and they built. It was truly an exhilarating unique experience.


    1. Aww! Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I am so glad your company was part of this. I felt like it was wildly successful and can’t wait until next year!!!


  5. It was quite hot out but it didn’t compare with the the “HOT” event Assemble! The atmosphere was saturated with creativity and talent. I watched it off and on all day and into the evening during the wonderful concert and silent auction. Congratulations to all the participants and Megan Tracy who organized the event.


    1. It WAS saturated with creativity. I was hoping some of that artistic talent would rub off on me. Thanks for the comment, Pat!


  6. Congrats. I think the key to victory was how the white bottles were meticulously arranged! How did the auction go??


    1. Ha! A lot of people thought those were found porcelain, but they were actually junk beer bottles. They painted them and Ryan made fake corks! 🙂

      The auction went okay. Next year I think they will do it differently b/c it was a little hectic in the middle of the BBQ festival and I think a lot of people who might have bid were already gone. I think bidding will start at the Feed & Grain before they are even finished next year.


  7. That is awesome. Such a cool event. And Congratulations to Ryan. Too cool.


    1. Thanks, Andy!!! It was a cool event. Already looking forward to next year.


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